Personalities | Berry Gordy | Sixties | Rock
(Founder, Motown Records, b. 1929)
Gordy co-wrote Jackie Wilson’s ‘Reet Petite’ in 1957 while working on Detroit’s Ford assembly line and started Motown in 1959 with an $800 loan, creating a factory-like hit-making process. Gordy scouted talented Detroit performers and matched them to equally talented in-house writers and producers. He fostered a family atmosphere of (mostly) friendly rivalry, which earned him the nickname Pops.
Gordy exercised strict control of Motown’s output. The emphasis was on crossover hits: Motown’s sound, polished up with bright percussion and strings, was prettier than Atlantic’s rootsy R&B, for example. Gordy established a charm school for his stars, and packaged them in slick promotional tours, the Motown Revues. It paid off with over 120 Top 20 entries in the 1960s. In Motown’s best year, 1966, the release-to-hit ratio was an amazing 75 per cent. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1971, Gordy built Motown into America’s biggest black-owned corporation, selling up to MCA in 1988 for $61 million.
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